Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

UC San Diego Health was the first provider in San Diego to offer transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for individuals with hard-to-treat depression.

We are now the largest and most advanced TMS clinic in the region. Our physicians continue to be at the forefront of innovation for targeted, personalized mental health care.

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

TMS is a noninvasive technological breakthrough that involves applying a series of short magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in areas of brain known to be associated with major depression. The treatment for depression is sometimes called repetitive TMS (rTMS) because repetitive magnetic pulses are delivered. 

Studies have shown that repetitive TMS is twice as effective at improving symptoms of major depression than antidepressant medications and talk therapy.

How Does TMS Help with Depression?

The magnetic pulses induce small electric currents that change the firing patterns of neurons, altering dysfunctional brain patterns associated with depression. 

In simple terms, TMS stimulates specific areas of the brain to provide relief and break the cycle of depression.

Who Can Benefit from TMS?

We currently offer TMS to adult patients (ages 18 and up) who have not responded to standard treatments for major depression. These people have what is called treatment-resistant depression (TRD). If you are interested in TMS, you will meet with one of our clinicians to carefully review your medical history, current symptoms and past treatments.

To be eligible for TMS treatment, you must not have:

  • Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
  • Any metal implants in the skull

How Effective Is TMS for Depression?

Every person responds to treatment differently. However, about one-third to one-half of people become symptom-free following TMS treatment. Others may experience an improvement in mood and then find that antidepressant medication, talk therapy and lifestyle changes (such as diet and exercise) provide additional relief.

What If TMS Doesn't Work for Me?

Our providers are deeply committed to helping you. There is always hope and a way forward with your care. If you don't respond to your first TMS treatment course, your doctor may recommend another type of TMS. We have several advanced TMS treatment options to help you feel better. If none of these helps, we can try other treatment modalities, including ECT and esketamine.

As hard as your journey may be now, you can be successfully treated.

Is TMS Safe?

Yes. The TMS therapies we use are FDA-approved, safe and well-tolerated, with no long-term side effects. Some people may experience involuntary eye blinking or facial muscle contraction during treatment. Others report minor headaches or mild pain at the stimulation site following treatment. These side effects usually go away within 24 hours.

Treatments with TMS

Our standard TMS services include:

  • MagVenture TMS Therapy
  • BrainsWay's Deep TMS

Treatment is performed in an office and requires no anesthesia or sedation. Patients sit comfortably in a recliner and remain awake during the procedure. A typical treatment course consists of daily TMS sessions 5 days a week for 4 to 6 weeks. Each session lasts from 5 to 60 minutes depending on your specific protocol. You can return to normal daily life immediately after treatment.

TMS therapy may be combined with changes in prescribed medications, as well as other therapies.

TMS Theta Burst Stimulation

In addition to standard TMS treatment, we also offer:

  • TMS Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS)

TBS is an innovative form of brain stimulation that closely mimics natural brain rhythms. Treatment involves applying short bursts of magnetic stimulation, delivered at high frequencies. TBS produces lasting changes in brain activity, takes less time than standard TMS and is as effective as standard TMS.

Does Insurance Cover TMS for Depression?

Many insurance plans in the U.S. cover TMS treatment for major depressive disorder. You should still check with your health insurance company to make sure. Ask for your plan eligibility and benefits (EOB) for TMS.

Research & Clinical Trials

Innovations in Treatments for Psychiatric Disorders

UC San Diego Health is leading innovations in treatments for psychiatric disorders. If you are interested in participating in a clinical trial or research study, talk to your UC San Diego Health provider.


Emergency Help Available 24/7

For a mental health emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You can also call the San Diego Crisis Line at 888-724-7240 for confidential, free support.

UC San Diego Health Emergency Departments